Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Big Picture: The Army in Taiwan

I've posted The Big Picture newsreels here before, but Scott just alerted me to one I hadn't seen.  It's titled "The Army in Taiwan" and it contains images that many here will find familiar.  I appreciate the fact that NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, preserves many of these old government films and makes them available for all of us to see.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Blue Goose

I've written previously about the USTDC Commander's aircraft that was commonly referred to as the Blue Goose.  As I recall, at least two different aircraft held that designation over the years.

Lawrence Marcum just sent me this newspaper clipping from 1976 that shows the aircraft and crew that were in place at that time.

And Even More Furniture

I've posted numerous photographs of furniture that many of us bought during our time in Taipei.  It's amazing to me that so many of those pieces still grace the homes of so many Taiwan vets after at least 25 or 30 years.

I recently received more furniture photos, this time from Vic Gerlach, who was my replacement at TDC.

He says that he's not sure who made these pieces, but he and his wife used lemon oil on them frequently after their return to the States and still apply it about once a year.

Center Table with Stools

"Compact" Bar

Grandfather Clock

Stereo Cabinet (Custom Design)

Tree Table
The grandfather clock is the APO version that could be broken down into three sections and sent through the mail.

Vic says they also bought marble and brass floor and table lamps, along with carved marble items like vases.  They also have several hand carved wooden objects.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Furniture Care, Haggling, Language and More

Bill Thayer comments on yesterday's post from Les Duffin and also talks about haggling, learning Taiwanese and other things:

Les and Don, we also purchased a number of furniture from Ricardo Lynn, the store that Les mentioned on the traffic circle in Shih Lin. We have had very little problem with cracking. The main problem that we have experienced was the glued pieces becoming unglued. I think this problem may have resulted from several factors such as the wood drying and becoming smaller and the use of inferior wood glues. I have been able to fix these problems, for the most part, with American carpenter's or wood glues, which when dry last virtually forever.

The other thing that my wife and I practiced in Taiwan had to do with what we called, at that time, the "two price" method of retailers. That is to say that there was one price for indigenous people and a higher price for foreigners. To offset this assumed methodology, we would shop and decide what we wanted, leave and my wife who is Taiwanese would later return alone and make the purchase. We also used this approach when we had visitors such as those who came TDY/TAD and we took shopping.

Having made many return trips to Taiwan since mid-1970's the latest of which was two years ago, the "two price" method has been greatly reduced and practically eliminated in the larger urban areas such as Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. However, it is still practiced in rural areas and among certain small street vendors and retailers who do not put price labels on the items they sell. I attribute the diminuition of this practice perhaps to the increased presence of foreign owned businesses such as the large Japanese owned department stores like Mitsukoshi and Sogo and American owned businesses or franchises such as McDonalds, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, etc.

It also helped that I spoke and understood to a degree the Taiwanese (Amoy) dialect. In the early 1960's, I was stationed at Linkou. One day, I was shopping at the Catholic bookstore in Taipei and happened upon two English-language lesson books for Taiwanese published by the Maryknoll fathers in Taichung. So I started learning the Taiwanese dialect, mainly so I could ask my wife's mother who only spoke Taiwanese and Japanese for her daughter's hand in marriage. When I finally became sufficiently proficient and acquired enough courage to pose the question, her response was a resounding and emphatic "NO". Well, anyway over time my wife's family was sufficiently impressed that I had learned some Taiwanese, they finally consented or maybe acquiesced.

Anyway, back to the Taiwanese lesson books. About ten years ago, I visited the Maryknoll language school in Taichung and a priest gave me a tour, including their bookstore. Maryknoll priests are headquartered in upstate New York, but they developed their own phonetic system for the Amoy dialect. Maryknoll priests who are assigned to parishes or missionary work in Taiwan, Singapore or Fujian province attend the school to learn the Amoy dialect. Since I purchased my first books back in the early 1960's, the Maryknoll language school has come up with a vast array of teaching materials, including CD's and English-Taiwanese and Taiwanese-English dictionaries, and greatly enhanced lesson books of more advanced Taiwanese dialect. The language school is located on the grounds of a Catholic church on San Min Lu in Taichung.

Taiwanese, by the way, is more difficult to learn to speak and understand than Mandarin, simply because there are more tones. but not as many as in Cantonese or Shanghainese. It is also made more difficult, because of the lack of written learning and teaching materials, which until the mid to late 1990's resulted in the enforced learning of Mandarin.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BOT Housing and Furniture

I received these great photos and accompanying comments from Les Duffin about a month ago.  They show the interior of his home in the Bank of Taiwan (BOT) housing area, including some of the beautifully made furniture that he purchased in Taipei.  Unfortunately, I set the photos aside during our recent move and couldn't locate them again until today.

Les writes:

I was happy to see Barbara Auch’s BOT 109 photos, especially since she and her husband were obviously neighbors of ours, at least for a couple of months.  Seeing the interior of her house reminded me very much of our own, so I thought I’d send these photos along.  I think you’ll see the similarities.

And on another subject of recent interest, Taiwan-made teak furniture, you’ll also notice that we had – and still have – quite a lot of it.  Here are a few gratuitous comments: The problem of drying out was well known.  Many folks who left Taiwan wrote back to friends saying their Taiwan furniture had later dried out and cracked.  But that was easy to avoid if you knew the system.  There were lots of furniture stores in Taipei and Shih Lin making teak furniture, but in the early days only Ricardo Lynn had a kiln, and kiln-dried wood was the only kind certain not to dry out and crack.  It was one of Ricardo Lynn’s major claims to fame and undoubtedly contributed to the company’s growth and fame.  Later, by the mid-70s or so, some smaller companies also had kilns of their own, so the cracking problem actually lessened over time.  But you still had to be careful which store you bought from because many still didn’t dry their wood before making it into furniture.

There were other ways to avoid the problem too: you’ll notice in one of my photos a large stereo cabinet and two bookcases.  Those were made to my own design by a furniture maker in Tainan during our 1971-73 tour there.  When I expressed concern that such large pieces would be prone to drying and cracking, he took me up to his attic and showed me several large pieces of Thai teak that he’d been drying there for six years.  It was some of those he used to make my cabinet and bookcases.  Today we still have several rooms of Taiwan teak furniture made by three different companies and none of it has ever cracked; it’s now 35-39 years old and still looks great.  We’ve polished it with lemon oil from time to time, but it was also in storage for six years where it had more than ample time to dry out, and if that didn’t crack it I doubt anything would.

Taiwan teak furniture fell into three categories.  First, there were standard items that most every company made;  Ricardo Lynn seemed to me to be the major innovator and I think many others copied his designs.  The second type were custom-made items built to the buyer’s own design.  And of course the third were those clever APO-mailable items.  It wasn’t unusual to see three or four furniture trucks backed up to the APO delivering things someone had bought while on leave in Taiwan.  The buyer had to meet the truck at the compound gate to sign it in, and it was a well-oiled process that got the items from the truck to the counter where the buyer paid the postage to ship them home.  You’ve mentioned end tables and coffee tables, but there were lots of other things too:  you could, for example, buy a grandfather clock that came in four boxes, each small enough to fit within the APO size limits.  Three contained parts of the cabinet, which bolted together, and the fourth held the movement and weights.  The postage for some of those things couldn’t have been cheap, but it was still a bargain given the quality of the furniture and the fact that it was pretty unique.   It was another great benefit of being assigned to Taiwan.


Monday, August 15, 2011

USTDC Building Layout

First of all, I want to apologize to those of you who do me the honor of checking in here every so often.  Because my wife and I recently moved, I haven't been posting very much new material and I haven't been very good about answering your emails either.  If you have sent me anything during the past couple of months (or before!) and haven't heard back from me, please send it again or at least let me know what it was and about when you sent it.  Above all, please don't be offended.

I've tried, without much success, to remember the layout of the USTDC building.  I just couldn't break through the mental fog that has built up since I left Taipei in 1974.  I remembered the main entrance and of course the interior of my own office in J-12, but that's about the extent of it.

Well, two of my old friends from TDC -- Larry Marcum and Randy Burt -- have both sent me sketches of the place as they remember it.  Larry was the command's Admin Officer while I was there and Randy was our Supply Chief (I'm not sure about Randy's title, but I trust he'll set me straight if I got it wrong).  Both of these sketches are of the first floor.  I told Larry that my version would probably be slightly different from either of theirs and would also be completely wrong.

Anyway, here's Larry Marcum's recollection:

And here is Randy Burt's version:

Remember that you can click on either of these images to see the full size version.

Recognizing that offices were moved around within the building over the years, do any of you have any comments regarding either of these sketches?  Please feel free to send me your own version, including the layout of the second floor, basement (I didn't even know there was a basement!) or anything else you remember about the place.